NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Responding to concerns about the structure of the new North American Mission Board regarding African American and ethnic ministries, the chairman of the Implementation Task Force emphasized those areas have been addressed in the new Southern Baptist Convention agency.
The 10-member ITF, in its April 3-4 meeting in Nashville, Tenn., heard the concerns of the SBC Racial Reconciliation Task Force regarding the structure of the new NAMB. John O. Yarbrough, pastor of First Baptist Church, Perry, Ga., and chairman of the ITF, in an April 6 prepared statement of response, said, “African American and ethnic ministry is going to be a strategic part of NAMB’s ministry.”
“NAMB is a new agency, organized and implemented in a new way. The terms being used in the structure are new, the matrix method operation is new and will allow interaction and influence by everyone in the matrix. In the new structure, everyone is closer to the office of the president. The budgeting process for NAMB will be new and the amount of funds available in the field will be greater,” Yarbrough said.
An element of the proposed structure for NAMB, to be constituted June 19 following the SBC annual meeting in Dallas, came under scrutiny during a meeting of the SBC’s Racial Reconciliation Task Force. Both the ITF and the racial reconciliation group were in Nashville for separate meetings.
The racial reconciliation panel, formed last year by the SBC’s Inter-Agency Council in response to the adoption of the racial reconciliation resolution at the 1995 SBC meeting in Atlanta, called for the new mission board to continue the Home Mission Board’s emphasis on African American and ethnic ministries.
The 17-member Racial Reconciliation Task Force expressed concern with NAMB’s proposed structure which embraces a team approach, called a matrix process, instead of emphasizing culture specialties as is the current structure.
The NAMB employment structure, announced March 21, places African American church-planting associates with associates for Hispanic and Anglo church planting under a single director for new congregation implementation.
Yarbrough’s April 6 statement said, “To replace the new structure with the old in this one area would be a major step backward rather than forward. There is a possibility that in the new budgeting process such a change could affect the way funds are made available for various ministries and even hurt the area over which concerns have been expressed.”
Willie McPherson, director of HMB’s black church extension department, warned during the racial task force meeting April 2, the new structure threatens the relationships established between the HMB cultural specialty departments and their counterparts on state convention staffs. He said in 1989, the year the department was begun, 66 black churches were started, while in 1996, 347 black churches were started within the SBC.
David E. Hankins, vice president for convention policy for the SBC Executive Committee who assists the ITF, said African American and ethnic involvement is “absolutely” important to NAMB.
“How best to accomplish this is the point of discussion … . The utilization of gifted and called ethnic and African American staff leadership in prominent roles in the NAMB organization is crucial to the success of NAMB’s goals.
“However, it is unnecessary, even counterproductive to the success of reaching ethnics and African Americans with the gospel to alter the proposed process model which provides a dynamic, interactive, strategy-driven structure for NAMB. The old model causes the goal of reaching ethnic America to be merely a segmented, departmental interest. The new structure elevates it to an agency-wide, convention-wide priority,” Hankins said.
Yarbrough said in an earlier news release April 2 ethnic and African American work was one of the new mission board’s four strategic arenas. He said “the NAMB structure has focused on an effective organization to facilitate the highest impact possible.”
In the same news release, Ernest Kelley, interim president of the HMB, said, “The NAMB structure is strategically sensitive to African Americans and ethnic groups. NAMB will assign African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, ethnics and Anglos to the church planting group … . The new structure does not reduce the agency’s emphasis on church starting among African Americans and language groups; in fact, more resources will be available.”
Kelley said NAMB’s church planting philosophy will be different from the present HMB.
“Fewer management levels and other cost savings will increase budget impact for the field,” Kelley said. NAMB staffing will include the most qualified and experienced personnel from various ethnic, cultural and “racial backgrounds,” he said.
Rudy A. Hernandez, of Grand Prairie, Texas, an ITF member and president of the Southern Baptist Hispanic Ministers’ Conference, in the April 2 news release said in “the new matrix model, ethnic missions will permeate every area of the new NAMB. All of us involved in direct ethnic work can be grateful to the Lord that this part of the ministry is very high in the priority list.”
Yarbrough said, “It is going to be an exciting and challenging time as we move through change to a new paradigm. This is really going to be new. While we are building on the heritage of what has been, NAMB is going to be a new agency. It will provide an efficient and effective delivery system that will free more funds to be used in strategic ministries in the field.”
Richard Land, president of the Christian Life Commission and chairman of the racial task force, James T. Draper Jr., president of the Baptist Sunday School Board, and A. William Merrell, vice president for convention relations with the SBC Executive Committee, met with the ITF during its April 3-4 meeting on behalf of the racial task force.
“It was a very open and thorough discussion,” Land said. “We had the opportunity to brief them on the concerns raised during the (racial) task force meeting and we were very pleased with their response.”
Before the ITF meeting, one racial task force member expressed his concern that the new NAMB configuration might prompt “a deep sense of loss” and “disenfranchisement” among black and ethnic Southern Baptists.
“It took decades to get to the point where we are now — that is, division status for the black church and language departments,” said Leroy Gainey, associate professor of inter-cultural studies and Christian education at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in California.
“The dismantling of that would be just horrendous — not only in terms of getting work started but just the perception that this is not important, and at a time when ethnic and African American churches are a growth area,” said Gainey, vice chairman of the racial task group.
The Racial Reconciliation Task Force also expressed hope the composition of the administrative leadership staff of NAMB would reflect the diversity of Southern Baptist life.
The “Covenant for a New Century” is the restructuring plan adopted by the SBC, reducing the number of SBC agencies from 19 to 12. Centerpiece of the restructuring is NAMB, which is a new agency created from the dissolution of the HMB, Radio and Television Commission and Brotherhood Commission.
The ITF is assigned the task of implementing the restructuring of the denomination.